Extending your IT resource into the cloud has become a lot more secure, as Steve Gold explains how businesses of all sizes can create a secure VPN between their physical IT storage and the cloud, allowing them access to mission-critical disaster recovery for the first time...
Whilst a large number of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) players have entered the cloud computing marketplace, it's only recently that the PAYG private cloud arena has really started to get rolling.
Although private cloud resources have less economic advantages than their shared facility peers, there are clear economies of scale to be enjoyed, for the simple reason that, in a conventional data centre, regardless of whether data is being stored on a given drive array, that array has to be spun, the air conditioning costs met, and the data centre staffing costs have to be apportioned.
With a private cloud option, you really do pay for what you use - with Amazon's virtual private cloud (VPC) facility, which is under beta test, users of the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service can now have their own private cloud accessible through a closed, encrypted connection.
Amazon says that the service is designed to act as a secure bridge for projects that use both EC2 and on-premise IT systems by moving the Web services into a secured private network setting.
According to Natalie Booth, event director with the 360 IT event - the technology infrastructure show designed to success Storage Expo - the VPC option will allow all users of Amazon's EC2 cloud computing platform to access the VPC components as a beta service.
"The good news is that the service is available to all users, who will only incur charges after the service is activated. This is an important step for cloud technology, as it allows businesses of all sizes to access EC2 through a closed, encrypted connection," she said.
"And because the service operates as secure bridge for projects that use both EC2 and on-premise IT systems, it means businesses can now move their Web services into a secured private network setting," she added.
Booth went on to say that, as well as introducing a pay-as-you-use VPC facility to anyone with a payment card, the other interesting aspect of the EC2 enhancements is the introduction of Spot Instances pricing.
Essentially, she explained, this allows users to buy EC2 access resources by bidding on unused capacity at a certain date and time.
The price of EC2 under this option, she says, depends on the amount of activity being performed by the system, meaning that the facility allows users control when they use the service and how much they pay.
"Many large enterprises already use a similar system for their on- demand energy and telecommunications services, so it's really good to see Amazon adopting a similar approach to what is fast becoming a new utility in its own right, namely the Internet," she said.
Amazon's private cloud facility is actually resourced on an isolated portion of the AWS cloud, with users defining a VPC's IP address space from a range they select.
Although the service is still in beta testing, there are reports that some smaller businesses are already using Amazon VPC as a disaster recovery option by regularly backing up their mission critical data from a company data centre to a small number of Amazon EC2 instances with Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes.
In the event of a disaster, they can then quickly launch replacement computing capacity to ensure business continuity. And then, when the disaster is over, users simply send their mission critical data back to their data centre and terminate the EC2 instances they no longer require.
According to Amazon, by using Amazon VPC for disaster recovery, companies of all sizes can have all the benefits of a IT disaster recovery site at a fraction of the normal cost.
IBM also has solutions in the private cloud space, having launched the world's largest private cloud computing service in November.
Known as the IBM Smart Analytics Cloud, the service allows clients to build their own private cloud environments and, according to Pat Toole, IBM's chief information officer, runs on a System z10 mainframe computer with 48 processors - 32 processors for production, 18 processors for development and test environments.
The service supports strong VPN cryptography and is capable of handling up to 10,000 secure transactions per second, with redundant backup support. In addition to standard private cloud facilities, IBM is also offering clients the Smart Analytics Cloud - a private analytics cloud solution for enterprises.
In use, the Smart Analytics Cloud is billed as providing easily-consumable business intelligence services, systems and software to help customers efficiently deliver shared business intelligence services across lines of business and functional organisations.
In a recent IBM study of more than 2,500 CIOs around the world, 83 per cent of respondents identified business intelligence and analytics - the ability to see patterns in vast amounts of data and extract actionable insights - as the top way they will enhance their organisations' competitiveness and ability to meet client needs.